NEW YORK — It's not too early to think about strategies for finding the best bargains after Dec. 25.
Stores have plied shoppers with discounts during the holiday shopping season, but bargain hunters can get deeper markdowns immediately after Christmas as retailers make room for new merchandise.
Still, finding post-Christmas bargains at traditional merchants is more challenging now than it was a few years ago. Stores are protecting themselves by stocking fewer products. They don't want another repeat of the holiday 2008 bust, when shoppers stopped buying amid a ballooning financial crisis. That year, stores slashed prices by as much as 70 percent early in the season, and still had heaps of leftovers in January.
"You are going to find isolated bargains" now, said Jodi Furman, writer of the Live FabuLess blog, which offers tips on spending wisely. Shoppers have to check out different types of stores and surf the Web for deals, she added.
Here are four tips on how to make the most of your post-Christmas spending spree.
SURVEY THE SCENE. Scope out retailers' shelves before Christmas to see what they have in surplus and to figure out what you want to target. For example: Looking for a fur coat? You're in luck this year. A mild winter has depressed shoppers' appetite for cold weather items. That means stores are already cutting prices on coats and heavy sweaters. Macy's Herald Square has some men's coats at 75 percent off.
"Cold weather merchandise is in abundant supply, so I think there should be some good values," said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at consulting firm Kurt Salmon. "Cold weather items don't age like wine." He added that many retailers will be discounting outerwear by up to 80 percent after Christmas.
It's best for shoppers to get to stores soon after Christmas to get the best selection. By mid-January, stores will have already started to stock up on spring merchandise.
SHOP ONLINE CHRISTMAS DAY. With most stores not open on Christmas Day, shoppers should check out online sales. Bargain hunters should also start researching that day on deal sites like dealnews.com and fatwallet.com.
SHOP IN ADVANCE FOR HOLIDAY 2012. Holiday wrapping paper, holiday lights and greeting cards are already being reduced by up to 50 percent. They'll be as much as 90 percent off the day after Christmas, according to Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of deal aggregator website Dealnews.com.
As for toys, it's a good time to buy basics like board games, which could be marked down up to 60 percent during the post-Christmas sales, according to Chris Byrne, an independent toy consultant. But don't expect to the season's hottest toys like the $99 LeapPad Explorer to be on sale.
It's a good opportunity to buy gifts for babies and toddlers for upcoming birthdays and next year's holidays. But hold off on buying toys far in advance for older children. What they want may change, Byrne said.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SHOPPER'S REMORSE. Shoppers were willing to buy this holiday season, but they have also been returning purchases at a rapid clip as they realize they just spent too much. Take advantage of that. Check out second-hand stores in your area or sites like Craigslist to grab others' unwanted items that weren't returned to stores.
Blogger Furman also suggests using social media like Facebook to look for deals. "This is more pre-screened, more trustworthy," she added. "It gives you an extra level of comfort, knowing that you're doing business with someone that you know and trust."